Unexpected lessons I learned from a long courtship
By Laju Iren
I still remember the day my husband proposed to me. It wasn’t documented on social media, so I guess we’ll have to depend on my memory. It also means that I’m at liberty to make it as flowery as possible and get away with it. But I won’t. I’ll stick to the facts albeit through love-struck eyes. It was on the 11th of May, 2012. Six years ago today and barely one year after we started dating. We were both members of the National Youth Service Corps-It’s one year of compulsory service to our country Nigeria that every fresh graduate must undergo. It was my Community Development Service Day, so that meant I was in my white t-shirts and green khakis.
I arrived home to meet the love of my life; he had just returned from a ministry trip and had come to visit me. I had barely settled down when he began the marriage talk. He had been throwing hints that he would propose and I thought he was pulling my legs. Don’t get me wrong, we had entered the relationship with marriage in mind from the very beginning. But I guess there is just a thrill that comes from being proposed to…Anyway, I turned my back for a second only to find my beloved on two knees asking me to marry him. I said yes of course. It was a big, beautiful ring. In fact, it was so big, it could have made two beautiful rings. So a few days later, we boarded an Okada from my parents’ place at Lagos mainland, all the way to the island to get it changed. We replaced it with another one that was closer to my size and a bit more expensive. Neither of both rings were expensive in the whole scheme of things, but for a corps member who was earning so little, I knew he had made a great sacrifice. What’s more, I was most grateful for a man who was, and is worth much more than gold.
I’m a romantic at heart. Watching public-like-something-out-of-a-movie proposals makes me as teary eyed as the next girl. So I won’t lie to you when I say that the temptation was there to compare the proposal I experienced to all the others happening around me, and more dangerously to those on social media. But the beauty of realizing that you can control your emotions, and you can tell yourself how to feel is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in life. So I let every feeling of comparison pass, and was content with the fact that I would be marrying the love of my life. It would only be a few months, as we planned to get married at the end of the year…Boy was I wrong! It would take much longer than we planned to finally walk down the aisle.
Shortly after the proposal, my fiancé bought my dad a bottle of wine to official ask for my hand. Well, it wasn’t really wine. But everyone in Nigeria knows that grape juice in a wine bottle is wine-so I guess we could call it wine. The wine remained unopened until our introduction more than two years later. This article is basically to share the lessons I learned during our long courtship.
1. It’s a matter of perspective
In the two and half years that we were engaged, I literally thought it was the end of the world. I remember calling an older friend who had been through a similar situation. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said, ‘when it’s time to get married, everything will begin to fall into place.’ I guess I was encouraged, half-heartedly so. She was after all giving me this advice from the comfort of her husband’s home; away from fighting sexual temptation for a man she adored not constantly asked: ‘so when is it.’ I look back at that conversation now with a smile on my face. Now, we’ve been married for about four years, our daughter is about two and half years old, so it turns out that it was just a matter of perspective. We had a lot of growing done in those years. Some of our biggest fights and greatest breakthroughs were in those times. We had enough time to decide whether we really wanted to be together. Many couples that have been engaged for long make the mistake of not realizing that they have an incredible opportunity. An opportunity to grow and develop the relationship. For some relationships, it actually is an opportunity to walk away. Read this old post of mine to find out what sort of relationships you need to walk away from.
2. Saving up
For a lot of couples that want to get married, money is a big issue. At least it was for us. It wasn’t because we wanted to own a mansion or live luxurious lives. But for a young couple that wanted to be taken seriously when we mentioned marriage to our family, we wanted to make sure that some basics were covered. The basics? A rented apartment and regular sources of income so that we didn’t have to be dependent on anyone. When we passed out in October, I was retained at the same place I did my NYSC. It was a flexible job which I loved but it didn’t pay so well. I stayed because it afforded me time for ministry and I sincerely felt that was were God would have me be. Our ministry had been a youth ministry since 2008, but we began church proper in November of 2012. You can check us out here. For nearly two years after church began, my fiancé and pastor wasn’t earning an allowance from the church. Nobody was, instead our finances went into the work. We began saving for our first house rent shortly after we got engaged; after one year, we had saved about N100,000. It wasn’t enough for our rent, so we put it into the work of the ministry. Despite his busy ministry schedule, my Bobo took a secular job on the side so we could save up enough to support our pay our rent and support the family. When it came to money, we were a team. I knew how much he earned, and he knew how much I earned. And together, we learned to be responsible with our finances.
I find it sad when some ladies say that the guy’s money is our money and my money is my money. It’s a different thing if you’re dating an irresponsible person. If you are, my advice to you would be to break it off. I hear some guys tell ladies to surrender all their money to them, after which they squander it. That isn’t what I’m talking about. But if you are with someone who is responsible and doing his best, then help out financially. Up till tomorrow, I can’t really say the exact amount my husband brought and the exact amount I brought to our first savings together. But I know that we both did our best. Our aim was to save for our rent and then something extra to contribute to the wedding.
Thankfully, all four of our parents work and are comfortable. They are the reason we had a big wedding. If they didn’t offer to foot the bill, we would have had a very, very small wedding. And we would have still been married.
Many single people don’t realise that it isn’t the size of the wedding that determines how happy your home would be.
3. Dealing with sexual temptation
This is one of the most important elements couples who are engaged for a long time face. No matter how much the world has changed, the bible is clear that sex before marriage is a sin. Being engaged is not being married. That ‘afterall, we are getting married, so why not?’ mind set is not biblical at all. If your defence is that you are getting married so you can do it anyway, why don’t you get married, so you can do it anyway? God’s idea is sex within the confines of marriage and no where else.
In these two posts, I talk about ways you can abstain from sex until the wedding night.
Eight types of couples likely to ‘do it’ before the wedding night
4. When the fiancé is a pastor
For those two years, I was a pastor in our ministry and the lead pastor’s fiancée. It is was an interesting and very tricky situation. I talk all about it, and share valuable lessons for pastor’s girlfriends/fiancees here. Help, I’m dating a pastor.
5. A new level of commitment
We got engaged in what I like to call the honeymoon stage of our relationship. Generally, I’ve realized that in the first year or so, most new relationships don’t have so many challenges. The emotions are still very fresh and there isn’t much hurt in the bank to refer to when someone misbehaves. But as time goes on, as you step into the second year or so, the emotions may not be at an all-time high. You may begin to get on each other’s’ nerves more often. It is at this stage that quite a number of dating couples break up, and the ones that make it through are generally much stronger for it.
I said all that to say that being engaged ushered my husband and I into a new level of commitment; so much so that we were not so quick to walk away even when things got tough between us. Please don’t get me wrong on this count. I firmly believe that courtship is the time to love intelligently and marriage is the time to love blindly. So I am not at all saying that if you see things that you know you cannot cope with in marriage, you should stay because you’re already engaged. You still have a choice to walk away.
The issues I’m referring to weren’t necessarily deal breakers. They were issues that could be worked through on both ends. And being engaged reinforced our commitment to work through those issues together.
6. The Art of explaining yourself
I’d never forget the day I told one random toaster at work that I was engaged. I was engaged when he resumed work at our company. And more than a year later, I was still engaged. His response was: ‘Is that an engagement ring or hand cuffs?’ I don’t mean to be petty…okay maybe I do just a little, but I don’t think he is married today. The Art of explaining yourself is something we definitely have to discuss.
The amazing thing is that you don’t owe everyone an explanation. My dear sister or brother, it’s your personal life. The colleagues at work, the distant family members and the nosy church members have no say in it. That said, even though you don’t owe everyone an explanation, it doesn’t mean you don’t owe anyone an explanation.
If you’ve been engaged for a year and nothing is moving, your parents and close siblings need to know what exactly is going on. If your pastor is aware that you are engaged, and he should be, he has a right to ask if a lot of time has passed and the wedding bells aren’t ringing yet. Even then, communicate with the authority figures in your life, but don’t let them put you under unnecessary pressure as well. When it all comes down to it, there will be two people in that marriage, and you both must be ready if it will work.
7. What’s the hold up?
There are many reasons for long engagements. We’d discuss a number of them and perhaps help make it easier for you to wait. Many couples have long engagements because either or both of them are pursuing an education. If you’re both pursuing a first degree, then it might be unrealistic to get married immediately especially if you live in Nigeria, because our system doesn’t make it very easy to work and study. I’ve always been a firm believer in the fact that the two people who are getting married need to be able to fend for themselves by themselves. If your parents are fending for you, you automatically give them the right to interfere in your marriage. Don’t get me wrong, our parents chipped in to help us a number of times especially very early on in our marriage. But we have never been dependent on them. Some other times, one person might be studying outside the country for a second degree and as such the other may have to wait. Whatever the case, be sure that you are being fair to each other. A level of trust is always necessary for long distance relationship.
It’s also important that you communicate and are on the same page about when you want to get married.
Money is almost always a big issue. I guess it’s because many young men today feel that they have to be so rich before they get married. And a lot of women feel like the men need to have it all together before they get married. That is so untrue. If you can afford the basics; if you can rent a fairly comfortable apartment, take care of your basic needs and be prudent about the family planning, you’ll be just fine. Not many people talk about contentment nowadays. But it’s such a timeless quality.
Especially in Africa, family is a major bone of contention when it comes to long engagements. This is one reason why I always advise guys to clear with their family and the girl’s family before proposing. Especially when you’re a lady, it’s a very tricky situation when your parents refuse that you marry someone for a reason as silly as tribe. If you’re a man, learn to stand your ground. Here’s what I think:. I have seen relationships five years old and over that had to end because the parents let tribal differences get in the way. Dear parent, what defines a person isn’t where they come from, but whose they are. Does that person believe in Jesus? Then he or she is your brother or sister in the faith. The bond we have in Christ is the strongest bond there is or ever will be. However, as sad as I am to give this piece of advice, it’s necessary that you understand your parents from the onset. Some parents are die hard on this issue and may not budge in a million years. If you belong to those kinds, you might need to play it safe and streamline prospective partners to your tribe. But if you’re already engaged, speak to family members, pastors or leaders whom your parents respect to talk to them.
I feel that ladies in this situation should take the appeal approach, but men need to be much more emphatic. So if you’re a man looking to get married to an awesome lady who your parents don’t like because of some unfounded reason like her tribe, you aren’t doing the situation any good by collecting an allowance from them and living in their house. Man up, find your feet. They’d be more than willing to listen to you then. Be humble, but firm and wise in your decision.
Not every family is bias for silly reasons. Sometimes, they just want to know that you both know what you’re doing. Be patient enough to show them that you’re ready for marriage by handling your affairs as individuals and as a couple with maturity and wisdom.
‘Cold feet development’ is also another reason for long engagements. It’s a situation where one party begins to have second thoughts about getting married. If that person is you, find out some pointers to help you decide whether or not there is a reason to end the relationship. If that person is your partner, don’t put unnecessary pressure on them. There is almost nothing as bad being in a marriage with someone who feels forced into it. But don’t also let anyone put unnecessary pressure on you for sex as a pre-requisite for getting married. If you aren’t married, you aren’t married and sex is for married people.
8. Let patience have it’s work in you
Anxiety never ever solves a thing. Instead it robs you of the lessons and blessings you should have gained while you’re waiting. Enjoy your process. Very soon, you’d be happily married and forget all about your long engagement. But in the meantime, enjoy the relationship that matters the most. Regardless of your status, you’re the bride of Christ
9. It isn’t marriage that defines you
I absolutely love being a wife. It’s an absolute honour to be married to a man as awesome as my husband. But it’s a role. It isn’t the definition of who I am. Only one thing truly defines me-Christ. And the knowledge of that, I believe is one of the valuable things that kept me in my singleness and still boosts me on in marriage. If you don’t feel complete now, if you don’t have joy now, if you don’t feel confident now, all that isn’t going to change when you put a ring on your finger. If anything, the disappointment that being a wife or husband doesn’t have the ability to make you whole, will make things worse for you.